Writings and observations

8. Pistol River Beach 2011

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The big result in the limited elections in Oregon on Tuesday – there weren’t many of major consequence – came in the far southwest corner of the state, in Curry County.

Curry can too easily be forgotten in the rest of the state, located well away from any metro centers, out on a lightly-populated reach of the coast. Most of its people are more than an hour from the largest city, Coos Bay (which is not exactly enormous) and over a mountain range from the Medford and Grants Pass area. Curry has more or less had to manage its own affairs.

For quite a while it did that without much difficulty. A formula developed. Declines in the timber industry were countered for a time with federal payments, and other elements of the economy could draw from the rising number of seniors who had sold more expensive homes elsewhere and moved to live in Brookings or Gold Beach. Then the federal money dwindled and the seniors who had insistently kept the county’s property tax rate second-lowest in the state (a quarter of that in many other counties) were simply resisting an increase. Period. Even if the county government shut down.

The seniors really do seem to be the key. A ballot issue on whether to build a new hospital did pass – that one seemed to catch senior attention. But a three-year operating levy to help support a local law enforcement structure that’s become as much theory as fact was opposed by close to 60% of the voters.

They may get their tax increase anyway, courtesy of a new state law that, under such circumstances, allows the governor and the county commission to unilaterally impose taxes needed to pay for basic county services – taxes Curry isn’t raising at present.

It would be a rough vote for those commissioners, and it would take some real fortitude. This would be a true case of voting against the will of the electorate. They’ve also been left with little choice if they want to protect the basic safety of their constituents, who seem less than concerned about it.

Some real drama is on the way in Curry County.

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